A couple of months ago I posted a blog entitled The Danger of Abandoning Sola Scriptura. The premise behind that post was the supposedly divine revelation that Pastor Terry Jones received which he claimed directed him to schedule his Koran burning event. That post was directly aimed toward the extra-biblical revelation that so many people claim to receive from God that tells them to do or not do certain things. In it we looked at the historicity of Sola Scriptura as it existed during the Protestant Reformation as a counter to the Roman Catholic teaching of that day and we also looked at some modern day examples of the dangers (Experiencing God) involved in seeking divine revelation outside of the Bible. Since then, I’ve received multiple comments which I’ve responded to, each attacking with the central argument that Sola Scriptura is not biblical and that tradition reigns supreme over the Bible. Just a few weeks ago, I received an additional comment which included some 10 verses attempting to prove that tradition existed in biblical times and should therefore be carried forward today. The problem with that logic is that it fails to realize that God was still continuing to reveal Himself in a divine way to the apostles and prophets that He had appointed, i.e. His revelation to men was not yet finalized.
What amazes me is that so much effort is placed into finding verses that present supposed “unanswered questions” or the few that contain quotes that are not found verbatim in Scripture as though some Da Vinci Code conspiracy theory exists and we are all held in the dark until those questions are resolved. While refuting each incorrect assumption regarding those passages is outside the scope of this post, the fact of the matter is these passages have such little bearing on understanding who God is, His divine attributes, who His Son is, salvation, justification, sanctification, etc. Sola Scriptura says that the Bible is not only inerrant, but that it is sufficient for all that the believer needs and that it is the sole source for guidance within the Church (this is not to the neglect of the Holy Spirit as He teaches and guides us through the Word of God). The Bible alone is sufficient. This means that traditions and historical writings, while profitable, do not hold superior weight to the Bible. Additionally, God’s divine special revelation is closed and He has provided everything we need in life to live according to His will through His Word and the giving of His Holy Spirit to all who are believers in Christ.
As mentioned, the argument is always that the Bible itself provides evidence for the use of tradition and that somehow those examples are placed above the authority of God’s Word. In this argument, I’ve yet to hear mention of the passage from Mark 7:1-13 which is a direct and explicit mention of the traditions of men. Here is the passage:
“1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches. 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Jesus is confronting the Pharisees about the weight that they place on their own tradition over the commandments of God, i.e. His Word. He is rebuking them for their many traditions that they have passed down and expressly states that in following the traditions of men they have made “void the word of God.” Now I ask, could there be a more clear warning of the danger of that comes with placing tradition above God’s Word? Here is the question that must be asked by those who hold tradition over Scripture, how can fallible, fallen men, who have clearly proceeded incorrectly in their traditions, as rebuked by Christ and defined in Mark 7, be assured that any future traditions are likewise correct? Are we to assume that this was just a momentary hiccup and that man has somehow regained his footing on upholding all future traditions over Scripture? Who is left then to define what traditions are to be passed down and followed closely and which ones are to be disregarded as Christ said of those mentioned earlier.
The Pharisees and those who hold to traditions over Scripture make a decision to choose sola ecclesia over sola scriptura. The position of sola ecclesia asserts that the church holds the final, infallible authority, not God’s Word. To claim that the church (i.e. Roman Catholic Church) can somehow hold the position of determining the extent and meaning of tradition while simultaneously defining the extent and meaning of Scripture places them in the awkward position of choosing which to be submissive to. It certainly cannot be both, so the hand is forced to choose. Is it tradition or God’s Word? The Pharisees chose to hold fast to their traditions passed down through the generations over the commandments of the Lord in His Word, just like those today that choose to uphold the traditions of the church over God’s Word. What this boils down to is man’s interpretations and traditions vs. God’s divinely inspired, inerrant Word. Let me repeat that, man’s traditions vs. God’s Word. Let that sink in for a minute, because at its heart this is the fundamentally fatal flaw of many churches and church-goers today. To place man above God, either in salvation or orthodoxy is the foundation of every heresy from the Apostle Paul’s day until now.
The position of Sola Scriptura is not battling against the existence of tradition in Scripture, but rather it stands against the incorrect weight applied to traditions that are set over and above the Word of God. It refers to the time when Scripture is complete and God’s Word was no longer being revealed and it simply states that the Bible is sufficient and authoritative. It alone is all the believer and the Church needs. Who are you going to trust, men and their traditions or God and His Word?
See also: http://vintage.aomin.org/SS.html